Golf’s biggest major chokes and where Rory McIlroy’s US Open meltdown ranks

Golf's biggest major chokes and where Rory McIlroy's US Open meltdown ranks
Rory McIlroy missed the chance to end his 10-year wait for a fifth major - Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey

Rory McIlroy’s brutal unravelling over the final four holes at Pinehurst on Sunday evoked memories of some of golf’s most famous meltdowns.

There have been bigger leads blown down the years, and worse shots played, but the context here was what made it so horrific; the journey McIlroy has been on, the 10-year wait for that fifth major, the enormous weight on the Northern Irishman’s shoulders every time he gets himself into contention, the knowledge of what this might do to his mental health. In the end, it has to be in the conversation as one of golf’s most painful denouements.

Telegraph Sport assesses where his collapse ranks among the most famous in golf history.

8. Adam Scott – 2012 Open Championship

The Australian was leading by four shots with four to play at the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes and managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, bogeying the last four holes to lose by a single stroke to Ernie Els.

7. Jason Dufner – 2011 PGA Championship

Another memorable capitulation. Dufner wasted a five-stroke lead coming down the stretch at the Atlanta Athletic Club, hitting his tee shot at 15 into the water before ending with three straight bogeys. That was still good enough to make a play-off. But Dufner lost it to Keegan Bradley. Exorcised his demons with a two-stroke victory at Oak Hill in the US PGA two years later.

6. Ed Sneed – 1979 Masters

One of the most famous collapses in major history. Sneed finished bogey-bogey-bogey to blow his lead and head into a sudden death play-off with Tom Watson and debutant Fuzzy Zoeller. It was the latter who triumphed (still the last debutant to win the Masters, although Ludvig Aberg went mightily close this year). Sneed never won a major. At least McIlroy has four of them.

5. Dustin Johnson – 2010 US Open

An absolute horror show from ‘DJ’ in the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010. Beginning the day with a three-shot lead, Johnson hit a triple-bogey at the second and things went downhill from there. A double-bogey followed at the third. And six more bogeys over the course of the day saw him card an 11-over-par score to finish five behind winner Graeme McDowell. DeChambeau was far less generous to McDowell’s fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy.

4. Sam Snead – 1947 US Open

Snead won seven major championships in his much garlanded career, but like Mickelson, he never won the US Open. He was runner-up four times including in 1947 when he birdied 18 in his final round to take Lew Worsham to an 18-hole playoff. Snead then led that by two shots with three to play. Like McIlroy, he ended up missing a putt from three feet at the 18th to leave St Louis Country Club deflated.

3. Rory McIlroy – 2024 US Open

Probably some recency bias here in putting it so high up the list. And McIlroy still managed to beat DeChambeau’s score on the final day, posting a 69 to the American’s 71, so it wasn’t an aberration of a final round. Far from it. But the magnitude of McIlroy’s collapse as soon as he found himself in the lead – having chased the rest of the weekend – makes it one of the worst. As Nick Faldo said, it will haunt him for decades. That DeChambeau was able to overturn a two-shot deficit, despite playing his final five holes in one-over-par, says everything.

2. Greg Norman – 1996 Masters

One of the all-time great collapses. Certainly one of the most memorable on this side of the Pond as it was a Briton who profited from it. Greg Norman’s final day 78 at Augusta in 1996 – featuring five bogeys and two double-bogeys – saw him blow a six-shot lead by the 11th hole, handing Faldo his third green jacket.

1. Jean van de Velde – 1999 Open Championship

Has to be the most spectacular, the most iconic, the most visually arresting. The image of van de Velde, trousers rolled up, smiling as he stands ankle deep in the Barry Burn at Carmoustie, is seared into the retina of all who watched that day unfold. The Frenchman, then ranked 152 in the world, had headed to the 18th tee holding a commanding three-shot lead, having led since the second round. But he contrived to lose it with an errant drive, then a second shot which bounced off a grandstand into the rough, before his third found the burn. Van de Velde eventually decided against sploshing out, taking a drop and – to his credit – forcing a playoff against Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. But mentally he was frazzled, and home hero Lawrie took full advantage.

Jean van de Velde's collapse at Carnoustie in 1999 is known as one of the biggest meltdowns in sports history
Jean van de Velde's collapse at Carnoustie in 1999 is known as one of the biggest meltdowns in sports history - Getty Images/Ross Kinnaird

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